Music In Mali/2

I’ve been trying to write this post all day while listening to the news reports coming in from Haiti. It’s all dreadful. Hundreds of thousands dead, many more without food, water, medicine, electricity. Port-au-Prince flattened. No reports yet from the countryside. It’s a calamity of major proportions. To make it worse, Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world. Those who had next-to-nothing now have absolutely nothing. I hope all of you reading this will do whatever you can to help. The people of Haiti need it desperately.

Now to get down to business. I intended this post to follow up my last one about what I learned about music in Mali. Paul, the music teacher at the American International School at Bamako was a wealth of information. I asked where I could get cd’s of Malian music, traditional and contemporary. He suggested waiting until I got home, then going to iTunes. iTunes, it turns out, has an exceptional international section. It’s a great way to listen to different kinds of music. It’s also easy to download recordings when obtaining the actual cd might be difficult.

At Paul’s suggestion, I started listening to different Malian musicians, traditional and modern. Here was a surprise! Modern Malian music sounds contemporary. I could identify strains of blues, jazz, hip-hop. Are these original African traditions, or is the music being influenced by recordings from the US and Europe?

Yes and no, says Paul. Musicians are curious about music. African musicians are no exception. They listen to different sounds and incorporate the ones they admire into their own performances. The question for a musician isn’t whether or not the music is authentic. It’s whether or not it’s good music.

Another point: Paul mentioned that the recording quality of African cd’s is not what it ought to be. It isn’t a technical issue. It’s more a cultural one. Traditionally, the words have always been more important than the music. For hundreds of years the country’s greatest poets have composed songs to be sung to a musical accompaniment. This is how poems are “published” in a society where few people know how to read or write. If a poem is a song, it can be spread far and wide by being sung.

Words more important than music. Sounds like rap, hip-hop. “You got it,” said Paul. “Everything new is old and everything old is new again. Original African forms spread all over the world. Now they’ve come back to Africa to start the cycle over again.”

Fascinating, isn’t it?

That’s all for now. Back to the news. Please keep the people of Haiti in your thoughts and prayers.

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